Federal finance reform will help the children

Casey Family Programs President and CEO Dr. William C. Bell was one of five national experts testifying in Washington, D.C., on July 29, 2010, about the need for comprehensive reform of the country’s child welfare financing system to improve the lives of vulnerable children and strengthen at-risk families.

U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, who chairs the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, called for Thursday’s hearing after meeting with Casey Family Programs leaders. Bell’s testimony provided an overview of how Title IV-E funding waivers have demonstrated what is possible when state and county child welfare jurisdictions are given the flexibility to invest in key services that can keep more families safely together, and ensure that more children in foster care are able to join a safe, nurturing and permanent family as soon as possible.

Watch Bell’s testimony on YouTube


Chairman McDermott, Congressman [inaudible], members of the subcommittee, thank you for inviting Casey Family Programs to share our perspective on comprehensive child welfare finance reform for Title IV-E.

I am William C. Bell, president and CEO of Casey Family Programs. Casey Family Programs has been serving children in foster care for nearly 45 years. Our work with states, counties and tribal child welfare jurisdictions has led us to believe that the goals of child welfare should be both to keep children safe and to prevent the need for foster care by strengthening vulnerable families.

This morning I will describe three steps that Congress can take to help the nation better achieve these goals:

  1. Change the current federal funding policy to expand the allowable usage of Title IV-E funds by states.
  2. Restore the Department of Health and Human Services’ capacity to grant Title IV-E waivers so that more states can participate in flexible funding demonstration waivers while collective agreement is being reached on the components of comprehensive federal finance reform.
  3. Ensure that federal financing supports an effective array of preventive and family support services.

During the past few years we have seen significant progress, evidenced by substantial reductions in the number of children in foster care while maintaining child safety. There has been a 16 percent reduction in the nation’s foster care population from just over 510,000 children in care in October of 2005, to just over 427,000 in 2009. National data suggests that this reduction has been fueled by a drop in the number of entries into foster care, combined with an increase in exits. This has occurred because a number of jurisdictions have focused on working with families to identify safe alternatives for children besides foster care, and emphasizing prevention as an integral part of child welfare practice.

We believe that Congress has a critical role to play in the country’s ability to sustain and expand this progress. Sustaining and expanding this progress requires change in our policies around child welfare financing. Our financing policy must be better aligned with our desire to keep children safe; our desire to prevent children from entering care; and our desire to identify a safe, nurturing and permanent home as quickly as possible when children do enter foster care.

Currently, Title IV-E funding cannot be used for prevention or post-reunification services. This presents a significant challenge to achieving better safety outcomes and finding permanent homes for children.

However, in jurisdictions like Florida, Los Angeles County, California and Alameda County, California, many of these challenges have been mitigated because of the availability of Title IV-E flexible funding waivers. These jurisdictions, along with Ohio, Oregon and Indiana, have had the flexibility to allocate Title IV-E funds for prevention, early intervention, and family support services to expedite permanency planning for children in their care. These states and counties have been able to reinvest the savings into building stronger community-based service environments and increasing their ability to keep children safe.

Through comprehensive federal finance reform, these types of success could be made the rule, rather the exception. But until we reach that point, Casey believes that restoring HHS’s authority to expand the use of Title IV-E flexible funding waivers is a critical first step as an interim tool in the process.

After nearly 30 years in the child welfare profession I am fully aware that many of us struggle with questions such as: How do we expand the service population and provide a wider array of services without breaking the bank? How do we know what works and what doesn’t work? How can we ensure that states are prepared to use greater resources and/or flexibility to achieve better outcomes? How do we hold jurisdictions accountable for the results that we want for our children?

These are all important questions that must be answered, but they should not prohibit us from taking action now that moves us in the right direction.  Children and families simply cannot wait until we have all the answers. At some point we have to move forward with what we know and with what we have, while at the same time, working diligently to define, legislate and implement the components of comprehensive finance reform.

New waivers can and should be structured to evaluate new approaches to child welfare federal finance reform that retained the Title IV-E entitlement, while permitting reinvestment of IV-E savings resulting from reductions in foster care.

In awarding new waivers, HHS must ensure that states are waiver-ready. States need committed, competent and visionary leadership. They must have solid and meaningful partnerships: Public and private partnerships, cross-systems partnerships, and partnerships with other child-serving systems, including the schools, courts, law enforcement and mental health. They must have systems that support data-driven accountability, and jurisdictions must invest in training and support for front-line supervisors and caseworkers and commit to ensuring manageable caseloads.

Much of the federal policy framework is in place with such actions as Congress passing the Family Preservation and Support Act, Promoting Safe and Stable Families, the Chafee Independence Act, and the action two years ago, through the leadership of the chairman in this subcommittee, the passage of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. We must continue to push further to achieve full federal child welfare finance reform.

Thank you again for the opportunity to share these remarks with you, and above all, thank you for your commitment to the well-being of America’s children and families.